Tess Elizabeth Wise

Visiting Assistant Professor, Amherst College
Office in Clark 202
twise (at) amherst.edu

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Researching and teaching American Politics

Economic Inequality
Race and Ethnic Politics
Political Methodology


Household debt, economic insecurity, and race and ethnic politics in the United States

Book Project

Economic Insecurity and American Political Culture is an ethnographic study of the lives and politics of Americans going through personal bankruptcy

The Color of Debt

The Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974 made it illegal for creditors to discriminate against applicants based on race. This project traces how the opening of credit markets affected minority families, the double-edged sword of consumer credit, and how discrimination persists under new guises


Household Debt and Voter Turnout

Matching bankruptcy files with voters files creates a unique data set for exploring how household debt affects political participation

New Project for Spring 2020: The Politics of the Gig Economy

This ethnographic project will involve participation observation as a ride-share driver and ethnographic interviews with ride-share drivers about their lives and politics 


I am a Visiting Assistant Professor at Amherst College for 2019-2020


Race and US Politics

This course is one part theoretical, presenting race as a multifaceted concept that is both a social construct and a social fact; One part historical, exploring how race in the United States has been constructed over time through institutions like the Census and in response to different waves of immigration; And one part political, surveying the politics of race in the United States from slavery to civil rights to Donald Trump and interrogating the relationship between race and other lenses through which US politics can be studied, such as class.


The Politics of Consumer Finance

This course will explore the history of consumer finance from Provident Loan Societies to credit cards and ask whether easy access to credit dampens the potential for class-based social movements. We will study the variety of institutions that regulate consumer finance in the United States from the Federal Trade Commission to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and explore how consumer finance was and is influenced by factors such as gender and race.


Identity Politics

Identity has emerged as a major theme of contemporary politics, although as we will learn, politics and identity have been entangled throughout history. We will explore the theoretical bases for identity politics in political psychology, political culture, and social movements. We will consider various critiques of identity politics from both the left and the right. In the second half of the semester, we will explore how identity politics have appeared in the United States focusing on the LGBTQ+ movement, Black Lives Matter, and white nationalism.


Political Ethnography

Ethnography is an immersive, interpretive research methodology that is ideally suited for studying culture and power. This course introduces students to works of political ethnography such as Evicted by Matthew Desmond, Every Twelve Seconds by Timothy Pachirat, and Strangers in Their Own Land by Arlie Hochschild. Students will learn techniques such as participant observation, and ordinary language interviewing. We will also consider the principal of positionally and the ethics of ethnographic research. In the second half to the semester, students will conduct and present their own ethnographic research.


About me

I am broadly interested in the politics of everyday people and how they negotiate economic insecurity. I am working on a book, Economic Insecurity and American Political Culture, based on my dissertation research that explores the lives and politics of Americans going through personal bankruptcy. I obtained my Ph.D. in Government from Harvard University in 2019 and a BS from MIT in French and Political Science in 2011. In addition to teaching and research I enjoy hiking, running, yoga, meditation, playing the piano, guitar, and singing.